Our breakdown of the MLB offseason continues today as we look at the Oakland Athletics, the team that finished with the worst record in the American League. The A's tried to reboot on the fly last offseason after three straight playoff appearances, but wound up finishing with their worst record since 1997. After trading away Scott Kazmir, Tyler Clippard, and Ben Zobrist midseason, the front office team of Billy Beane and David Forst seemed to believe in their club's core, making moves to supplement, rather than transform their club.
The Free Agents
There's really no other way to characterize the A's signings this offseason except to say that they are gambling. They're gambling that the four starts at the end of the year by Rich Hill, in which he struck out 36 batters in 29 innings, indicate that he can return to starting and hold up over an entire year, something he really hasn't done since 2007. They're gambling that Henderson Alvarez, who underwent shoulder surgery last year, can bounce back by mid-season and be the guy he was in 2014 again. They're gambling that Ryan Madson, who hadn't pitched in the Major Leagues for three years before he came back last year, can go another three years as a dominant arm out of the bullpen. And they're gambling that they can help John Axford find the plate again.
None of these deals, save the Madson one, were particularly expensive, and if they pan out the A's will have, at the least, valuable trade chits this July and next offseason. But there's also a strong possibility the A's get almost no value out of some, or even all of their signings. Given the state of their roster, and how bad they were last year, however, these small bets were entirely reasonable.
The A's were extremely active this offseason on the trade market, making five deals that cleared away a trouble spot and upgraded both the club's major and minor league system. They were:
Traded a minor league reliever (Brendan
McMurray McCurry) to the Astros for Jed Lowrie - McMurray McCurry is promising, but Lowrie is a perfectly good major league infielder who can play third base, shortstop, or maybe even second. He also had a lot of success in Oakland a recently as 2013. So far, it sounds like the A's are planning to put him at second base, and go with Danny Valencia at third, because they...
Traded Brett Lawrie to the White Sox for two minor league pitchers (Zack Erlin and Jeffrey Wendelken) - This is addition by subtraction, as Lawrie struggled in Oakland after being acquired for AL MVP Josh Donaldson. At this point, it's not clear he's better than a replacement level player, and may have been the source of apparent clubhouse problems in Oakland (beyond those that stem from playing at the atrocious Oakland Coliseum.
Traded Drew Pomeranz, minor league reliever Jose Torres, and minor league slugger Jabari Blash to the Padres for Yonder Alonso and Marc Rzepczynski - Alonso is an upside play who never developed as expected in San Diego. He's got serious on-base siklls though and is kind of a classic A's guy. Scrabble is a LOOGY who figures to fit in with Madson, Axford, and the next guy who fill the revamped A's bullpen.
Traded Jesse Chavez to the Blue Jays for Liam Hendriks - Hendriks maxed out as a back end starter as a prospect, but a move to the bullpen added a few miles per hour to his fastball and he was dominant last year for Toronto, while Chavez is the back-end starter Hendriks could have been before he became a plus high-leverage guy at the end of games.
Traded Evan Scribner to the Mariners for a minor league reliever (Trey Cochran-Gill) - With all these new relievers flying around, the A's preferred not to continue to employ Scribner, and dumped him on the M's, who will try to keep all the fly balls he allows from going out of Safeco.
Reasons to Worry
You mean beyond the 94 losses last year? Hmmm...ok. I'm worried that Billy Beane has lost his mojo, or at least that David Forst isn't up to the task of constructing a winning roster. A lot of their success in 2016 is going to depend on pitchers who have huge question marks attached to them. They also are heavily dependent on players without significant upside. Indeed, the only two members of the club projected to be worth three wins or better are All Star catcher Stephen Vogt and starter Sonny Gray. That's...not good. Also, Lowrie, Valencia, Alonso, Billy Butler, and the left field platoon of Coco Crisp and Mark Canha all profile to be worth just a win above replacement.
Reasons for Hope
That bullpen is going to be a hell of a thing, provided Hendriks can consolidate his gains and Madson can stay healthy, so they might not need as much out of the back end of their rotation. Marcus Semien has breakout potential at shortstop if he can avoid the errors that tanked his value in 2016. They also have a lot of players in what should be the prime of their careers. And if they can all get and stay healthy, the A's might be hanging around .500 long enough to think about adding at the trade deadline. And if they aren't, they will hopefully have some pieces to sell off to try again next year.